| ||Monday, October 18|
Special to ESPN.com
|Editor's note: ESPN.com will be counting down Jay Bilas' preseason Top 25 over the month of October, revealing one team per day.
The memory of Duke's remarkable season quickly took a back seat to the early departures of Elton Brand, William Avery and Corey Maggette, as well as the transfer of Chris Burgess. While the focus of the postseason was on the four players who left Duke early, the real story was that four Blue Devils were selected in the top 14 picks in the NBA draft.
While Mike Krzyzewski has again reloaded, it will not be enough to replace what he lost. Gone are Trajan Langdon, Brand, Avery, Maggette and Burgess, and with them, a chance at another NCAA title run. Shed no tears for Duke, because the Blue Devils are still an outstanding bunch, but they will be hard-pressed to duplicate the great success of the past two regular seasons. The big questions: Who will shoot the ball from the perimeter with Langdon and Avery gone, who will score down low with Brand now a Bull, and who will emerge as the go-to guy?Last season, the key to Duke's success was Avery. Krzyzewski put the ball -- and the season -- in the point guard's hands like he has with so many others, and Avery responded to become Duke's most indispensable player. This season, Coach K puts the ball into the hands of a freshman for the first time since he handed it to Bobby Hurley in 1990 -- except this freshman will not have the same weapons at his disposal as Hurley did.
Prep phenom Jason Williams will be the starting point guard, and the only point guard, for Duke's 2000 season. Williams is an outgoing personality with a maturity beyond his years on and off the court, but he will have some major challenges in his first season. There are a lot of teams in the ACC looking for payback, and Williams will be out front to take a lot of the pressure.
Williams is a leader, has a great handle, superior quickness with the ball and makes great decisions. His shooting is solid, with a good stroke from beyond the 3-point arc. He can play a physical game, and will prove to be a great college player. Williams had better stay healthy, however, because there is nobody to back him up (freshman Andre Buckner is the only other true point guard on the roster). In a move unique to Duke, the Blue Devils offered Buckner a scholarship when he was set to be a walk-on at Tennessee.
Williams' backcourt mate is up in the air, and could be junior Nate James or freshman Michael Dunleavy Jr. James (5 ppg, 45 percent FG) is a very good athlete who can shoot from the perimeter, and is a solid utility player. However, James has rarely faced much pressure on the court -- usually, all of the defensive attention was focused on other Blue Devils. In 2000, James will have to perform in the spotlight.
Dunleavy is a good shooter at 6-7, and has a good feel for the game. He is smart and a good passer, but he is not particularly strong or quick. Like you would expect from a coach's son (his dad is Portland Trailblazers coach Mike Dunleavy), Dunleavy is aware and unselfish, and will blend in well.Up front, the leadership and scoring will have to come from Chris Carrawell and Shane Battier. Carrawell (10 ppg, 4.8 rpg) played this summer for the World University Games team, and will have to step up his production. He has excelled as a role player in the past, but will now have to perform as one of the top two guys on the scouting report instead of the fifth or sixth. That's a big difference.
Carrawell has an unorthodox game, but when he puts it on the floor to attack the basket, he can finish strong or pull up and drain the mid-range jumper. Carrawell has 3-point range, but needs some time to get his shot off -- he's not a catch-and-shoot player. A superior defender, Carrawell is as crafty as any player in the conference.
Battier proved to be far more than a charge-drawing defender last season, and added a reliable jumper to the fold. Coming out of high school, Battier was known as a scorer, but his abilities to impact the game on the defensive end, on the glass and by getting loose balls were his most impressive talents. Now, with the big guns gone, Battier (9.1 ppg, 5 rpg) will have to become a reliable scorer.
Carlos Boozer will fill Brand's large shoes. Boozer, a 6-9 power player, has a nice touch and very good skills but could be slowed at the start of the season as he recovers from a broken bone in his foot. He does not have a dominant personality, but could be a dominant player. Boozer can power his way to the basket and finish, or he can hit the turnaround jumper. He had a tendency to drift some in high school, but he will not have that luxury at Duke. Boozer can be a big-time player.
Casey Sanders, a 6-11 shot-blocker, is the best athlete of the freshmen, but lacks bulk and strength and needs offensive polish. The surprise of the group may turn out to be Nick Horvath, a 6-10 multi-skilled player who can shoot and has very good hands. While he is not as heralded as his Duke classmates, Horvath could see plenty of time.Duke will be very good, just not as dominant as it has been in the last few years. With the rapid development of the freshman class, and a relatively weak ACC, Duke can be a top contender toward the end of the season. Krzyzewski will relish the opportunity to be the underdog after having by far the most talent in the nation last year.